Egypt: Judicial Revolt


Here's an unexpected wrinkle in the continuing saga of Egyptian electoral reform: The BBC is reporting a "judicial rebellion" on the Nile. "Judges in Egypt," says the Beeb's lede, "have refused to oversee September's presidential election unless new legislation is passed guaranteeing their independence."

The judges also want "to oversee all stages of the electoral process." In previous uncontested presidential referenda (the BBC refers to these as "elections"), the judges were limited to overseeing the actual casting of ballots. Although they apparently observed opposition supporters being prevented by police from entering polling places, the judges lacked legal standing to intervene. In short, they were used by the Mubarak regime as a legal cover to legitimize its presidential circus. Their refusal to continue to be used in this way "is an unprecedented show of defiance to the Egyptian government."

Essentially, they've taken hostage Mubarak's severely hedged electoral reforms that purport to make contested presidential elections possible. Unless Mubarak agrees to their demands, the judges won't supervise the elections; that will leave Mubarak without a legal cover. The Kifaya movement had already denounced Mubarak's reforms, and began calling for an electoral boycott that, if successful, would embarrass a regime claiming to be democratizing. Now the judiciary is using the reform debate for its own purposes.

Obviously, democratization in the region will require not merely the constitutional enumeration of rights (many regional despotisms have long featured worthless constitutions), but independent judiciaries that will protect those rights. In that context, a challenge to the regime by Egypt's judges is potentially a significant development. Now it's Mubarak's turn. The judges say they will meet in September to consider any concessions from the regime.

Thanks to Tony Badran for the link.